NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Gloria Perine almost missed her son’s historic game.
Bad weather and illness nearly prevented her from making the trip from central Texas last Saturday when Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine set a new major college rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas.
“I would have been so upset with myself had I not gone,” she said Monday. “I knew I was going to rain. I wasn’t feeling well, and I had a sore throat, and I had been sick. It actually crossed my mind that this was going to be the first game that I miss. But then I was like, ‘No way. I’m just going to fight through it. I’ll never miss a game.'”
Her son showed similar toughness in a performance for the ages. He didn’t enjoy the conditions that nearly kept his mother at home during Oklahoma’s 44-7 win.
“That was horrible,” he said. “I hate rain. I would have much rather played in snow, just because my feet wouldn’t be soaked, and it wouldn’t feel like an extra 50 pounds that I’ve had on me. But you have to play through whatever weather it is, so it was a great opportunity for me to establish myself even more, and I think I did a pretty good job.”
None of Oklahoma’s great running backs ever performed like Perine did last Saturday.
Not Heisman Trophy winners Billy Vessels, Steve Owens or Billy Sims, Heisman runner-ups Adrian Peterson and Greg Pruitt, two-time Heisman finalist Joe Washington or all-time Sooner touchdown leader DeMarco Murray. Perine shattered Pruitt’s school record by 133 yards. He had the best half ever by an Oklahoma back in the first half with 222 yards, then had the fourth-best half by a Sooner back in the second half, with 205 yards. He broke Peterson’s freshman record for rushing touchdowns in a season, and now, numerous other records are within reach.
“I’m jealous, I want 4+ too!” Peterson tweeted afterward. “Congrats lil homie proud of you!”
Perine, a 243-pound bruiser with breakaway speed, might be just scratching the surface of his potential. He’s just 19 years old, one year removed from playing high school ball.
“Who knows what his ceiling is?” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s going to get stronger, he’s going to get faster.”
Perine wasn’t even considered Oklahoma’s top running back recruit. Joe Mixon had that honor, but he was suspended for the season after hitting a woman in the face at a restaurant before fall practice began and getting suspended for the season. Even then, he was behind Keith Ford and Alex Ross on the depth chart. He handled his uphill climb the way he’s handled every challenge since childhood.
“He’s always surprised me how every year, I get nervous because he’s moving up into a different age group or a different league or a different age group or different weight class, and then, on to high school,” Gloria Perine said. “I always got nervous: ‘What if he doesn’t perform as well as he has and he gets bummed out? And every time, he’s been able to rise to the occasion. Every time the level increased, he’s increased his intensity.”
Perine was Oklahoma’s No. 3 back entering the opener against Louisiana Tech, but he led the Sooners with 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He ran for 34 yards against Tulsa, then led the Sooners again with 67 yards on just nine carries against Tennessee.
His breakout came against West Virginia, when he rumbled for 242 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-33 win. He broke loose for 213 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech the week before the 427-yard, five-touchdown outburst against Kansas.
After the game, the family went to The Garage, a restaurant in Norman. Gloria said her father, Sam, and Samaje’s stepfather, Casey Barber, have helped teach Samaje to be humble, and it helped when his new level of fame became apparent.
“I actually am so very proud of him for the way he handles it,” Gloria said. “If it’s a baby, or if it’s an adult or an older person — he really adjusts to the person he’s with or who wants an autograph or to take a picture. He smiles, and he just seems like he’s very, very excited, and it’s not fake.”
He now ranks in the top 10 nationally in yards rushing, and is tied for fourth with 19 touchdowns. He received a standing ovation at Oklahoma’s basketball game the next day, something he wasn’t comfortable with, but might need to get used to.
“I wouldn’t say embarrassed, I would say more awkward, just because I’ve never had something like that happen to me before,” he said. “I had no idea they were going to do it. It was kind of out of the blue for me. I just tried to handle as best as I could. I still felt very awkward.”
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